On Humiliation: Transforming Social Cruelty Into Erotic Pleasure
*Content Warning: mentions/discussions of body shaming, slurs, transphobia, and race play.
Humiliation is probably the most well-known kink when it comes to BDSM. In fact, one of the most common misconceptions about BDSM is that humiliation is automatic in any D/s dynamic. The fact that humiliation is so visible creates a common assumption that it's easy. That's why it surprises many that true humiliation is a complex form of psychological play that's more than just throwing around the word "loser!" It's a skill that can be just as hard to master as a single-tail whip while also having its own set of risks. In the same way that a whip can leave a scar, humiliation can leave its own kind of deep psychological wounds.
Humiliation is a form of psychological sadomasochism. Psychological sadomasochism creates a complex mental state that mixes sexual arousal with either fear, embarrassment, confusion, distress, and/or more. Other forms of psychological sadomasochism include mindfuck, fear play, gaslighting, or any form of mental pain and manipulation used for the purpose of erotic pleasure. Humiliation brings out intense emotions that can vary from mild embarrassment to complete devastation. It can be silly and ridiculous in the same way it can be heartwrenching and cathartic. That said, one should never dive cold into humiliation without proper communication. This goes for both tops and bottoms. A bottom is as able to trigger and upset their top as much as a top to their bottom.
But enough BDSM 101. Why is humiliation so arousing? What is it activating in the human psyche? Let's go back to our younger years, shall we? Think about when you embarrassed yourself in front of your crush. Think about the moment when you accidentally called your teacher "mom" in front of the class. Maybe you were the poor, unfortunate soul who peed their pants once in school (and nobody let you live it down). Think about all these petrifying scenarios from those self-conscious and impressionable years. How intense were those emotions? To some of us when we were young, it was enough to make us feel like we were dying. There's a sinking, tight feeling in your chest. You feel desperate to reverse what's happening. You want to disappear, but there isn't a way out. You hold back the tears to spare yourself from making the embarrassment worse. You then give up and let the emotion consume you. When mixed with eroticism, this can be an explosive and cathartic feeling. It's accepting that you have no control, and that's okay. It's knowing that no one can hurt you with these words, because you've done more than accept them, you're turned on by them. To quote Deleuze in "Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty":
"The masochist regards the law as a punitive process and therefore begins by having the punishment inflicted upon himself; once he has undergone the punishment, he feels that he is allowed or indeed commanded to experience the pleasure that the law was supposed to forbid."
What is "the law" here? In the context of erotic humiliation, it can represent our society's unspoken "laws" about sexuality, gender, beauty, and beyond. In attempting to forbid one's nature by inflicting punishment, the masochist accesses the forbidden pleasure through the punishment itself.
Let's use an example. Let's say that a man has been made to feel ashamed for being "gay" (whether he's actually homo/bisexual or not) and gets the word "f-ggot" thrown at him. Eventually, he discovers that he actually likes being called "f-ggot" in a sexual context. By Deleuze's precedent, he accesses the joy and pleasure of being his true self by using the same punishment that was supposed to forbid it. Isn't that badass?
Inversely, let's talk about enjoying humiliation as a top. I am going to speak from My own personal experience.
When I humiliate someone, it's pure Id. I let go of the self-critical and moralizing voice within Me in a controlled, and non-judgmental environment. Cruelty is generally looked down upon, but feminine cruelty is especially taboo in a society that values feminine docility. The Bitch is a sexist archetype that we've all become familiar with. It's a label designated to shut women up, even when they're expressing valid concerns and objections. It's cathartic to be freed of other people's egos and judgments, even if it's for a short moment.
Looking at these two sides, I would argue that humiliation can even be deeply romantic. In erotic humiliation, we act out the worst sides of ourselves: patheticness and cruelty. And yet, not only do we accept it, we actively seek it. In a way, we say to each other: "I can see you at your absolute worst, and I still want you" or: "I want all of you, including the worst parts".
Negotiating Humiliation With 3 Questions
It can be a bit tricky for some to negotiate humiliation, considering that it's very mental. However, I have developed My own system of negotiating with My subs that has helped Me understand what they want better. Here are the questions that I bring up when discussing a humiliation scene/dynamic with a sub:
What is your humiliation angle?
This is the most important question. I have to know the plot before directing the movie. What I call a "humiliation angle" is basically the main theme of a humiliation scene/dynamic. It is massively important that I make My sub elaborate as much as possible on their humiliation angle. Especially since there are many subs that confuse humiliation with dirty talk. There is a difference between a sub that likes to feel slutty in a sexy way and a sub that likes to feel slutty in a degrading way.
Some bottoms may answer this question with: "I'm very submissive". Well, duh. That's why you're here. This type of answer is in the same category as "I want to be Dominated": painfully obvious yet says nothing. Whenever they finish with "because I'm submissive", I consider it a communicative dead-end. Surely they want to hear something besides "you're submissive" for an hour. However, I understand that the person saying this most likely doesn’t know how to communicate their kink or has never thought about it in this way. I navigate this by bringing up some common humiliation angles in the way of a question. "What makes you feel submissive?" "Do you think you should be humiliated because you think you are...?" I ask, ask, ask until I get there.
Here are some common humiliation angles:
Gender role deviancy/Emasculation: "I am less of a man."//"Girls shouldn't be doing this."
Body shaming: SPH, fat shaming, etc, fall into this category.
Sexual incompetence: "I can't please you."//"I can't please anyone."
Passivity: "I'm easy to manipulate"//"People use me."//"I'm gullible.
Intellect: "I'm stupid."//"I'm a dumb bimbo"
Sexual deviancy: "I am disgusting for liking this."//"I am a pervert."
Sexual promiscuity: "I am a slut."
What are your humiliation hard limits?
Second most important. There are people with traumas and insecurities that you do NOT want to tap into. Ever. You do not know someone's history with a word.
It's also important for the top to express their limits with humiliation. A top may have their own reasons as to why a word, theme, or dynamic may make them uncomfortable. For example, I have a strong limit against cis-hetero men using transphobic slurs, race play, and anything having to do with pushing someone towards suicide or self-harm. If a sub is looking for that kind of play, I am not the Domme for them. My enjoyment, comfort, and sanity are not worth sacrificing for someone else's fantasy.
What does nothing for you?
These are a form of soft limits. It's not traumatizing or distressing, it's just a turn-off that takes someone out of the scene. For example, people with big dicks usually aren't turned on by SPH because they know their dicks are not tiny. Other bottoms are not turned on by body shaming because they find it to be catty and superficial. Some people don't like cuckolding because they don't want to think of another person. It's the same on the other side: some humiliation angles might turn off the top and take them out of top space. It's all about communicating the humiliation angle clearly beforehand so no one ends up pulling something out at the last minute and killing the mood.
Of course, negotiating humiliation doesn't end with these 3 questions. These questions serve the purpose of opening up a larger conversation as a whole. This is a game with a lot of grey areas and landmines, so it's best to cover most of your bases with as many follow-up questions as possible. Genuine interest, curiosity, and empathy are crucial when negotiating, period. However, I hope that you, dear reader, may find these questions helpful or insightful when negotiating scenes in the future.
Use my Shop Enby referral link and get 10% off on a variety of sexy toys when you use the code VIOLETAFELIX at checkout!